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GOP House Education Committee members target Biden labor nominee in gig worker hearing

House GOP lawmakers pointed to President Joe Biden’s labor secretary nominee as a marker of the Biden administration’s next step in bringing a controversial California labor law to the federal stage. 

“This nomination truly boggles the mind,” said Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.), Subcommittee on Workforce Protections chair, of Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “It would be hard to find a state official with a greater record of mismanagement than Julie Su had in California.” 

Julie Su was a key enforcer of the divisive Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) in California as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s secretary of labor and workforce development until July 2021. She currently serves as the deputy secretary of labor and was nominated by Biden in February after former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh left his post

AB5 entitles independent contractors, or self-employed workers, to be classified as employees with labor protections such as minimum wage, compensation and benefits — which did not apply to independent contractors beforehand in the state. 

Republicans and witnesses argued Wednesday that the California law has destroyed economic opportunities for freelancers and gig workers, and that a federal application of the law could have catastrophic impacts on workers across the country. 

Biden has voiced support for the PRO Act, which amends the National Labor Relations Act to redefine who qualifies as independent contractors, with the intent to close loopholes that employers can use to misclassify employees as independent contractors. 

Republican members’ Democratic counterparts on the subcommittee pointed out the legal constraints that wouldn’t allow Biden to implement AB5 as it exists in California, and that the misclassification of workers as independent contractors is pervasive and harmful. 

“And that should be the end of the story,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.). “But Republicans appear intent on kicking up as much dust as they can and trying their hardest to undermine Acting Secretary Su’s nomination to be secretary of labor. Yet again, Republicans are putting politics over the people.” 

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) defended Su and pointed out differences between guidelines under AB5 and how the Department of Labor defines independent contractors. 

“It seems to me there’s a lot of conflation, obfuscating the real issue is, what the administration is attempting to do,” Takano said, noting that the hearing was “conveniently scheduled” the day before Su’s nomination hearing. 

Republicans and advocates against AB5 said that there is a misconception among many that independent contractors are exploited and that becoming an employee offers the same opportunities and more benefits. 

“Independent contractors have advantages over traditional employees,” said Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) 

Kiley claimed that an outcry in response to reclassifying gig workers under AB5 in California should deter the Biden administration from implementing the changes under the PRO Act. 

“In its current condition, California is the last place that should be a bellwether for political change in America,” Kiley said. “Turning AB5 into national policy would multiply these losses.”

Source: The Hill

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